Aside from what you’ve seen reviewed during the month of April from our baseball book review list (linked here), consider these for potential Father’s Day gifts:
== “Are We Winning? Fathers and Sons in the New Golden Age of Baseball,” by Will Leitch ($24.99, Hyperion, 293 pages, linked here):
It’s got Dad’s Day written all over it.
Yet I see I’ve bookmarked this at page 149 but haven’t continued it over the last couple of weeks.
I admire what Leitch has done with this — put into context his baseball experience, with a game between his (and his dad’s) Cardinals and his friend’s Cubs at Wrigley Field as the conveyor belt. I’m identifying more to his friend Mark in this case, so maybe that’s the unexpected U-turn I ended up taking by accident in the process and I’m not sure if that’s a good thing in Leitch’s approach to all this.
He’s selling today’s game as something that’s worth buying, despite all its faults, especially when it continues that father-son connection. I’m buying it.
But I’ve also skipped ahead, to a chapter that covers the top of the fifth, and Leitch’s examination of today’s media, where the Internet has changed the rules, and he’s really embraced it.
“Some reporters have bristled at the industry’s change, making themselves into martyrs of a new age, blasting sports reporting’s transformation as the death knell to all that they hold dear. I understand. I worked at an old small town movie theatre in high school … now there are multiplexes, with digital prints downloaded and programmed. The job I loved no longer exists. That mades me sad. But it does not make me blame the digital prints. Movies look better now, too.”
But Journalism (with a capital J, or even lower case) is hardly better for the technological advancement. Maybe it will be. But I’m having a tough time with that as I see the product in one way spread to the masses and open new windows of thought, but also deteriorate into a product that like giving a set of car keys to everyone who can type. Eventually, there’s more accidents, traffic problems, Sig Alerts, cleanups, repair bills … for society, is it better to let everyone on the Information Super Highway (are the kids still calling it that?) while the Amber Alerts are telling us that another story has been hijacked and we all have to suffer for it.
I like hearing more voices, but I’ve got enough voices in my head creating traffic-tower reverberration. I think I’ve adapted as well as I’d like so far (thanks for reading this blog this deep into the converation).
I’m trying to be onboad with Leitch as he escorts me into this new age of reporting. He’s going to have to pull the rope harder. Maybe we need to sit down at a game together and talk this out.
I’ll give this one another try sooner rather than later. I’m still sad.
When I get over it, I’ll resume.
== “Sports From Hell: My Search for the World’s Dumbest Competition,” by Rick Reilly ($26, Doubleday, 204 pages, linked here).
This did not pique our interest when we first heard about it (from him, actually, while he was between jobs), or a month ago (linked here) when we kept stumbling onto to his pimping his ride. In fact, we’ve kind of repelled from this, despite the great concept (which we also think has been done before, and possibly better, linked here).
What kind of irks us again, with another read, is Reilly picking Homeless Soccer as one of his “dumbest.” It’s the last chapter in this book, after World Sauna Championships, Ferrett Legging, Bull Poker, The Three-Mile Golf Hole, Rock Paper Scissors, Women’s Pro Football, Chess Boxing, Drinking Games, Zorbing, Baseball (yes, baseball, because it provides some funny lines for him to use), Nude Bicycling and Jarts.
Homeless Soccer was too good to make fun of.
“You combine a very dumb sport by itself — soccer — with an even dumber premise, and you’re there! … If a homeless team did happen to win the Homeless World Cup, where would they put it? In their grocery cart?”
Stop, my heart is splitting.
Even after he figures out the benefits of this event — helping people who happen to be without a home bring some hope in their lives — Reilly continues to make fun of it.
Until the very end, when in his concluding chapter he admits: “You couldn’t see the face of one of those homeless soccer players as he soaked in a standing ovation … Really, considering my preconceived notions of what these sports would be like vs. what most of them actually were like, maybe I was the dumbest of all.”
Again, it’s Reilly making it about Reilly, making the journey into Reilly and coming out even more Reilly than before.
I’m surprised he hasn’t launched a seperate book on this sport now, praising it. Put in the files. Right after you’re done explaining how you’ve been transformed by Special Olyjmpics — which you originally thought was really dumb.
== Big Hair and Plastic Grass: A Funky Ride through Baseball and America in the Swinging ’70s,” by Dan Epstein ($25.99, St. Martin’s Press, 340 pages, linked here):
Great concept. Bland execution. With all that great material?
The cover, featuring Oscar Gamble’s Afro, Bill Buckner’s mustache and Mark Fidrych standing there, is a great sell job. But year by year, Epstein writes about what happened as if it was a Wikipedia entry. In between, he manages to get into what’s the juice of the decade — ashtray stadiums, Astroturf, polyester uniforms, hair, and promotions. But again, it feels like we’re watching from afar. Maybe we experienced it, but it’s hardly jogging our memory. This seems only to want to document it rather than revel in it. Where’s the quotes from those who lived it, and now may regret it? I lost interest in the middle of the chapter telling us about ’74, which is strange, since it was leading to the Dodgers finally getting to the World Series. Someone can try this again, with a little more “Starsky and Hutch” flair it deserves.
== “Traded: Inside the Most Lopsided Trades in Baseball History,” by Doug Decatur ($19.95, Acta Sports, 187 pages, linked here):
Go first to the appendix and see the “notice to player of release or transfer” document that Decatur managed to save that involved his great uncle, Art Decatur, when he was traded from the Dodgers to the Phillies in 1925. To see the words “you are unconditionally released” crossed out, and the trade explained to him on a card signed by Dodgers manager Wilbert Robinson, is too good for words.
Was that the worst trade in Dodgers’ history?
Of course not. It was when Fred Claire gave the Montreal Expos the rights to future Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez in exchange for second baseman Delino Deshields in 1994.
Not so fast, says Decatur.
By a system he’s developed that considers the future value of players acquired in a given trade, weighted value of players at the time of the deal, etc., etc., he first manages to explain why the Cincinnati Reds dealing Frank Robinson to the Baltimore Orioles for Milt Papas and two others in 1966 was only the 17th worst trade in Reds’ history (with apologizies to a line from “Bull Durham”).
Then he breaks down why Martinez-for-DeShields isn’t even in the top 10 worst in Dodgers’ history.
And in the grand list of the top 306 lopsided trades in baseball history, Martinez-DeShields is at No. 255.
We can’t explain it. We can only report it.
According to Decatur’s data, the Dodgers’ best trade in franchise history was in 1939, obtaining eventual Hall of Fame shortstop Pee Wee Reese from the Boston Red Sox for Red Evans, Art Parks and cash. It’s No. 24 on the all-time list.
The most lopsided trade ever, ever? Not the Boston Red Sox selling Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees for $125,000 in 1920.
Try — seriously — the Houston Astros obtaining Curt Schilling, Pete Harnisch and Steve Finley from the Baltimore Orioles in 1991 for Glenn Davis? By the formula, this deal is 609 on New Future Wins Shares; Ruth-to-N.Y. was 576.
We could read this for hours. And we have. Befuddled. But enlightened. And amused. And that’s half the battle with engaging a reader. This book has done it.